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Published: June 18th 2017
Today was our full day to explore the city of Fez. It is said that Fez is the most complete medieval city in the Arab world and is considered to be the spiritual heart of Morocco. After breakfast, our guide for the day, Hakima, arrived and would be showing us around Fez. Our first stop of the day was the Royal Palace. It's golden doors were impressive as well as it's beautiful mosaic work. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to enter so this was basically just a photo stop. From here we walked along Rue Bou Khessissat in the Jewish Quarter known as the Mellah. This street was lined with homes of wood and wrought iron above a wide variety of shops. We simply walked around while Hakima explained a few things but nobody was really interested in any of the shops as we were all looking forward to the medina visit later in the day. After jumping back into our waiting van, we were driven to a panoramic spot overlooking the medina. From this vantage point, it was just amazing to see just how vast and sprawling the medina is. A labrynthe of 10,000 streets and alleyways, it is definitely
easy to see how people can get lost in there! We spent about 15 minutes up here with hordes of other tourists where we took our obligatory photos and soaked in the views. After seeing the medina from this vantage point, I was honestly a little intimidated of where we were about to venture into. Before heading off into the medina, we made a stop at Art Naji, a ceramic pottery factory. This place was absolutely fascinating as we got to see the entire production process from start to finish. We started off the tour of the factory with a demonstration of a pottery thrower on a spinning wheel. From here, we visited some workers doing the painstaking task of hand painting every intricate and fine detail. We even saw an area where men spent all day chipping at blocks and stone in order to produce the pieces for the mosaics. This factory had it all from tagines, vases, plates, and even fountains. As with every tour of a factory, we made the obligatory stop at their shop. Some of the women in our group shopped as if their lives depended on it. The English couple on our tour even
bought a fountain which they had shipped home. I am not much of a shopper but I will admit that some of the fountains and tables for sale were beautiful. If I owned my own home, I probably would have made a purchase. After spending way more time here than we should have, we eventually made our way to the medina. After being dropped off, we wasted no time in diving right into the maze of the medina. Hakima, led the way and we were all pretty worried of getting lost and left behind that we all initially kept a diligent eye on her. Thankfully, she was wearing a bright purple outfit that allowed her to stand out a little easier. Almost immediately, we saw just how chaotic things can get in the medina. Many of the streets that were lined with shops were so narrow that we were all pushed up against each other as we were just simply trying to move our way through. Definitely not a place for those who are claustrophobic or value their personal space. Throw in all the shopkeepers transporting items on carts and donkeys, it made for a very chaotic yet amazing experience.
Hakima kept stopping and trying to explain things to us but for me there was just so much going on around me that I could not keep my attention on what she was saying. The medina was organized in such a way that some streets/alleys were devoted to fruits, vegetables, and other food products while other streets/alleys were for clothing, metal products, and textiles. The whole time while walking in the medina, a few us kept singing a late 1980's rap song called Funky Cold Medina. Although the use of the word medina in the song has a totally different meaning than the medina we were walking through, it somehow became the unofficial theme song of the trip for most of us on the tour. Eventually we made our way over to the famous Chouwara tanneries. We knew we were near when we starting seeing all sorts of skins hanging from windows and walls in order to dry but the smell was the definite giveaway. We made our way over to this 5 story building with shops on every floor and we were given a sprig of parsley to smell which was to help alleviate the foul smell. We climbed
to the top where there was a leather shop and a fantastic view overlooking the tanneries. The smell wasn't actually too bad and I didn't even need to hold the sprig of parsley under my nose. This was by far the most amazing sight in all of the medina. Hundreds of skins hang from walls and the rooftops in order to dry, while other skins are being dipped in vats filled with a white liquid. This liquid is made of pigeon poop whose ammonia is apparently a good preservative. Other vats were filled with various colors of dye in order to color the skins. After taking in this amazing view, we slowly made our way down back the building through all the various shops and it's workers agressively pitching their sales tactics on us.
After lunch, the second half of the medina tour was basically focused on shopping. Our first stop was at a carpet shop where we witnessed a demonstration of the tedious and time consuming work of weaving a carpet. From here we were led into a room where we were given the obligatory mint tea before being shown a wide variety of carpets. Nobody seemed too
interested in purchasing a carpet so we quickly continued on through the rest of the tour. We made a quick stop at the Sidi Tijani Mosque where Hakima gave us some information about the mosque's significance but what most caught my attention was a 105 year old beggar woman sitting at one of the mosque's entrances. Next to her was her loyal cat that seemed to stand as still as a statue for us tourists to take a photograph. After giving the woman some change and taking a few photos, we made our way over to a fabric shop. Again, we were given a quick demonstration on how they made fabrics and before we knew it, we all had head scarves put on heads in typical north African fashion and encouraged to take photos of ourselves with them on. What an ingenious way to get people to buy some fabrics as almost all of us ended up purchasing the item that was put on our heads. From here, Hakima brought us over to a medersa which is a school where students come to study Islam. We visited the courtyard of a medersa where Hakima explained it's purpose while we admired
the beautiful geometric designs of the tilework and the intricate carvings of cedarwood. After the medersa, we stopped for a quick look at a caravanserai. These were traditionally used by travellers stopping through Fez where the ground floor was used to store camels, goats, and whatever goods the traveller was transporting. This caravanserai that we stopped at appeared very run down and I wasn't sure if it was even still in use. The rest of our time here in the medina was basically spent going from shop to shop. We vistited silver shops, wood carving shops, and shops selling all sorts of traditional Moroccan clothing. Not being that big of a shopper, I basicaly sat and watched while everyone peroused the items for sale. It did get a little boring after a while but it was quite interesting to learn how various things were made as well as their cultural significance. After a long day of shopping and medina exploring, we headed back to our hotel to rest for a bit before dinner.
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